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Spengler Must Be Joking

David P. Goldman (a.k.a. Spengler) sees a dark future. If Obama is reelected, he suggests, “the America of 2016 will resemble the beaten and bankrupt countries of Western Europe more than it will the America we grew up in.”

Goldman identifies six trends as particularly disturbing: 1) increasing dependence on government “handouts”; 2) waning religious affiliation; 3) low birth rates; 4) declining patriotism; 5) rising national debt; 6) the reduction of American power overseas, likely leading to the acquisition of nuclear weapons by state sponsors of terrorism. To stop these trends, Goldman urges his readers to vote for Mitt Romney.

I understand that pessimism is part of Spengler’s schtick. But this is a truly bad argument for electing Mitt Romney. That’s not because the trends Goldman identifies aren’t real or aren’t disturbing–although I am far less concerned about (4) and (6). Rather, it’s because several of them are long-term developments that have little or nothing to do with who’s president.

I grant that the president has significant influence over international affairs, although less than Goldman seems to be believe. The president also has some control over benefits and the budget. The size of the debt, however, depends substantially on the condition of the economy, over which the president’s influence is far more limited that either candidate lets on.

But does Goldman really think that significant numbers of Americans are going to go back to church, have more kids, or recover their belief in the superiority of our culture if Mitt Romney is president? If so, Spengler’s pessimism conceals a truly extreme optimism about the consequences of politics.

I wouldn’t bother responding to Goldman’s overestimation of politics if it did not exemplify the annexation of American conservatism by the Republican Party. According to the defenders of this annexation, the fate of the country depends on the fortunes of Republican candidates, especially for president. But the truth is, the occupant of the White House doesn’t matter very much to many of the problems that conservatives care about. Politicians are rightly held responsible for specific policies. But the nation’s cultural health depends on us.

about the author

Samuel Goldman is an assistant professor of political science and director of the Loeb Institute for Religious Freedom at George Washington University. He earned a Ph.D. in political science from Harvard, where he has also taught writing. In addition to The American Conservative, Goldman’s work has appeared in The New Criterion, The Wall Street Journal, and Maximumrocknroll. Follow him on Twitter.

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